Best known for Mod Fuck Explosion (1994), a Quadrophenia for the self-mocking indie rocker, Jon Moritsugu is a trash purveyor with a punk sensibility and a fancy education from Brown. After financing his early films with a cash settlement from an industrial accident, he relocated to San Francisco, made a heavily censored film for PBS called Terminal USA, churned out three more features starring his wife (the fascinating Amy Davis), and island-hopped from Oahu to Vashon. (He's teaching a class for the Northwest Film Forum on low-budget filmmaking this February.)
Fame Whore, initially released in 1997 and only recently out on DVD, is one of Moritsugu's more conventional efforts. The film plays its excesses almost too straight, with few of the formal shenanigans Moritsugu is known for. It also, not coincidentally, makes more sense than any of his other films, and its triptych structure—three stories connected by a tenuous theme—is, if anything, even more conventional now than it was in 1997.
Addressing celebrity, isolation, and eccentricity, Fame Whore follows Jody George (Peter Friedrich), a top tennis player who's suddenly besieged by allegations that he's gay; Sophie (Amy Davis), an egomaniac convinced she's going to make her mark in pop music, photography, acting, painting, video art, performance art, and any number of supplemental careers for which she has neither aptitude nor training; and George (Victor of Aquitaine), a manager at a dog pound who invents a seven-foot pooch to keep him company on lonely shifts.
What makes the movie cohere, however, isn't the themes but the uniform acting style: a strenuous camp onslaught that favors accumulated absurdism over deft comedic turns. The droll bits near the beginning get plowed under just like the sentimental moments at the end, and the effect is leveling: It's easier to identify with the invective-spewing asshat if the empathetic softie is just as one-note. The performances are overblown but disciplined, and for the most part, they work.
At the heart of the movie prowls Sophie, the superrich bitch who orders her long-suffering assistant (Jason Rail) to track down ever-more dubious paths to international stardom. (Like the hapless dupes in Six Degrees of Separation, she really wants a role in the film adaptation of Cats.) Amy Davis adopts a hilariously strident monotone, along with emphatic gestures that show off her French manicure, and though she probably couldn't have carried the film on her own, she pulls focus with shameless delight.
Having attained the fame Sophie is attempting to buy, Jody George (who constantly refers to himself in the third person) is begging to be taken down. It's not clear whether he's a self-hating homo or a hetero jerk, but the mode of self-destruction he chooses is so sad it's funny—or perhaps I mean so funny it's sad. Meanwhile, George at the Urban Dog Placement Center is so genuinely crestfallen when he has to fire his imaginary friend that I cried an imaginary tear.